Our environment is continuously being harmed at the hands of plastic pollution and deforestation, and today’s large corporations are undoubtedly the biggest offenders, with Swiss giant Nestlé at the top of the list.
Let’s take a look into the main impact that these large corporations, specifically Nestlé have had on the environment.
Plastic pollution endangers marine life to the extent that, by 2050, the amount of plastic in our oceans may be greater than the amount of fish (by weight) according to the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Deforestation poses an imminent threat to the environment as well, impacting around 1.3 million square kilometers of land each decade, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. While these issues are created by many companies, Nestlé is easily one of the largest international contributors, creating 1.5 million metric tons of plastic waste each year, and destroying rainforests in the Ivory Coast and Ghana for monetary gain.
Overall, 32 percent of the 78 million tons of plastic packaging produced annually contributes to plastic pollution, as well as the annual increase of overall ocean pollution–expected to double by 2030 and to quadruple by 2050, according to the World Economic Forum, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and McKinsey and Company. Once this plastic is in the ocean, it continues to break down into microplastics, as a result of fragmentation from larger items. Currently, it is estimated that 51 trillion microplastic particles are in our oceans, which, to put into perspective, is equal to 500 times the number of stars in our galaxy. The most common of these plastics are single use plastics, in which the key material is called PET or (Polyethylene Terephthalate). Large consumer goods companies are major users of materials like PET and thus, key contributors to worldwide plastic pollution.
In recent years, Nestlé, has been largely criticized as a major driver of the environmental impact caused by plastics. Nestlé has over 2,000 brands worldwide, and their products include beverages, supplements, baby formula, ice cream, pet food, prepared foods, confectionary goods, and bottled water. Break Free From Plastic, an independent organization dedicated to exposing top global polluters led 239 cleanups and audited brands throughout 42 countries in October of 2018. The survey conducted by the organization found Nestlé to be one of the three worst plastic polluters globally. In fact, the study named Nestlé as the world’s second top plastic corporate polluter. As Nestlé claims to sell one billion products per day, with 98% of them in 2017 being sold in single-use packaging, these statistics come as no surprise.
However, Nestlé’s dramatic environmental impact includes more than simply the production of single use plastics; deforestation is yet another area where Nestlé has had a significantly negative environmental impact.
The primary danger of deforestation simply relates to the function that trees have in their specific ecosystems. Trees take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen in the process of photosynthesis, known as respiration, and emit minimal amounts of carbon dioxide after storing surplus carbon dioxide within the plant to aid growth in the long term. Forests function as these carbon dioxide filters on a much larger and greatly impactful level, where the elimination of thousands of these trees causes a massive fluctuation in the emission of greenhouse gases that are expelled into the atmosphere, as the carbon dioxide that would otherwise be mediated by similar levels of oxygen pollutes the atmosphere, a phenomenon otherwise known as an increase of greenhouse gasses––ultimately contributing to global warming. Not only does deforestation feed into overall global warming and its dangers, but given the number of plant and animal species that live in the forests, deforestation greatly threatens the extinction of these species, such as the Jaguar for example, that heavily relies on its tropical forest habitat. The unique biodiversity that forests provide heavily for both plants, animals, and even populations in developing countries cannot be sacrificed––deforestation leads to depopulation.
Although the company in 2010 stated on their website that it “made a commitment to no-deforestation” by 2020, Nestlé has now made clear to the international community they will not meet this goal. Despite this, Nestlé has remained committed to guaranteeing that none of their products are associated with deforestation within the next three years, by working with their supplies to help them change their practices. In March of 2020 the company reported that 85% of the top five commodities they buy linked to deforestation (palm oil, pulp and paper, soya, meat and sugar), have been verified as deforestation free, and this is planned to increase to 90% by the end of 2020. While this suggests that the company is on the right track, Nestlé continues to source palm oil and other key commodities including soy and cocoa from suppliers who directly violate Nestlé’s own “no deforestation, no peat, no exploitation (NDPE) responsible sourcing policy.” However, many environmental activists worldwide remain skeptical of these statistics, as they have been released by Nestlé, and not a third party.
So, what can Nestlé do, and will they actually make an effort to reduce their environmental impact? Nestlé has taken the first steps by rethinking their environmental policy, specifically their plans that are designed to prevent or reduce harmful effects on ecosystems. Nestlé has stated that their ambition by 2030 is to “strive for zero environmental impact in their operations.” This means “protecting biodiversity and natural resources while encouraging others to act responsibly.” In addition, the company has made commitments to use responsibly sourced ingredients and renewable resources, operate more efficiently, eliminate waste, and manage water responsibly. One example of a commitment Nestlé has made is the company’s vow to make “100 percent of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025 and to push the use of compostable and biodegradable materials polymers.” These changes Nestlé has started are a step in the right direction, but simply put, not enough.
With this, two real questions remain: Are these goals timely enough to truly have an environmental impact, and above all, will Nestlé actually commit to them?
Nestlé Greenpeace (page 3)
Vol. II Identifying the World’s Top Corporate Plastic Polluters (page 2 and 23)
Spencer Rosenberg is a rising junior at the Horace Mann School in New York. He is extremely passionate about giving back to his community through the Social Impact Investment Club at school. He is an avid athlete, playing both varsity water polo and lacrosse. In his free time, he enjoys playing (intense) poker games with his friends and cooking all sorts of different dishes in his kitchen at home.